False Equivalency: How We Are Manipulated #2

Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger

obama and boehnerLast week I wrote two guests blogs that were essentially two sides of the same coin. “How We Are Manipulated #1” and “The Decline of Journalism” were akin in that in the former I was writing about the use of “False Equivalency” that has long been a propaganda tool, especially from the wealthy backers of the conservative movement and the bland acceptance of “False Equivalency” by our mainstream media. I receive “E mails” each week from “Media Matters for America” the organization that examines bias in the media. http://mediamatters.org/ . This organization often provides me with ideas for this blog and I think performs a yeoman service for the people in this country who wish to clear the mental fog of propaganda, supplied by people who want to destroy the democratic process, and that has bombarded us since the Age of Reagan. These people own the major media and/or use their media ownership to ensure that the truth about our country is not only hidden, but subsumed in a planned torrent of propaganda. In this piece I will continue my series by providing various quotations that serve as examples, or admonishment of the prevalence of “False Equivalency” memes in the media. Links will be supplied at the end of this blog.“Fox’s Chris Wallace Says President’s Shutdown Conduct, Not Congress’, Is “What’s Unprecedented.” During an October 6 interview with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace said a president “refusing to negotiate” with Congress is “unprecedented”:

WALLACE: All right, you say the consequences would be bad, it would be irresponsible not to act. Despite these stakes, the president — the president — refuses to negotiate saying what Republicans are demanding has never happened before.


What’s unprecedented is not Congress tying strings. What’s unprecedented is the president refusing to negotiate. [Fox News, Fox News Sunday, 10/6/13]”

The legislative process as designed by the Constitution is such that Congress is charged with having to take a vote if they decide to change various laws and statutes. The Republican Party does not have the votes to repeal the affordable care act and so has chosen an unprecedented means to try to repeal the law. They have planned to do this for some time and the fact of it is presented in this link:

“A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning”  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/us/a-federal-budget-crisis-months-in-the-planning.html?hp&_r=0 .  A short excerpt:

“WASHINGTON — Shortly after President Obama started his second term, a loose-knit coalition of conservative activists led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III gathered in the capital to plot strategy. Their push to repeal Mr. Obama’s health care law was going nowhere, and they desperately needed a new plan.

Out of that session, held one morning in a location the members insist on keeping secret, came a little-noticed “blueprint to defunding Obamacare,” signed by Mr. Meese and leaders of more than three dozen conservative groups.

It articulated a take-no-prisoners legislative strategy that had long percolated in conservative circles: that Republicans could derail the health care overhaul if conservative lawmakers were willing to push fellow Republicans — including their cautious leaders — into cutting off financing for the entire federal government.”

We then present a quote from Candy Crowley, who is the CNN equivalent of NBC’s Chuck Todd. Having watched Ms. Crowley for years, in my opinion she is incapable of lucid political analysis, preferring always to cover the news in term of the “political horserace” and when she strays into analysis it is of the variety of what pundits talk to each other about inside the Beltway:

“CNN’S Candy Crowley: “Why Wouldn’t The President Come To The Negotiating Table?” On the October 6 edition of CNN’s State Of The Union, host Candy Crowley asked Treasury Secretary Jack Lew if failing to raise the debt ceiling “is as bad as you say it would be, why wouldn’t the president come to the negotiating table?” [CNN,State of the Union, 10/6/13]”

The problem with this question is that the President has made his position clear and that is that he is not negotiating with those he deems are holding this country’s economy hostage. You may, or may not agree with his position, but he certainly hasn’t hidden it from “Ace Political Reporters”. By asking her question in the manner she did, Candy is really making a Republican talking point, rather than cogently examining the situation. She might have acceptably said”

“Secretary Lew, the President has refused to bargain on this issue because his position is that the House has created a hostage situation. Why do you think his position is reasonable given that all sides agree that the financial dangers are critical? This would be an honest question because it references the President’s position fairly and doesn’t create a false equivalency in the question. Can you see the difference?

An even clearer example of the “False Equivalency” is from CNN’s Ashley Banfield:

CNN’s Banfield: “Which One Of You Two Parties Is Going To Let Go So That You Stop Tearing Us Apart?” On the October 8 edition of CNN’s Legal View, host Ashleigh Banfield likened America’s position during the debt crisis to “Solomon’s baby” and asked, “Which one of you two parties is going to let go so that you stop tearing us apart?” [CNN, Legal View, 10/8/13]

In Banfield’s use of this technique her point is really that both Parties are equally guilty of creating this crisis, which is not true and so because they are equally guilty they should negotiate the issue. The problem with this is that to negotiate this issue the Administration would be required to put alternatives on the table. By putting alternatives on the table that would me that the Administration would have lost the negotiation by offering something for nothing. The House has a responsibility to prevent economic disaster from happening to us, so their position nakedly is do what we want or we will hurt the country. This from my perspective is not only insanity, but is an abrogation of their oath of office. The distinction is lost on Ms. Banfield.

Rich Lowry, the editor of the conservative “National Review” held forth without disagreement or clarification by his interviewer.

“On the October 6 edition of NBC’s Meet the Press, National Review editor Rich Lowry suggested that: John Boehner Is Going To Hold Steady Until The President Negotiates — It’s “How These Kind Of Disputes Are Always Settled.” Republican demand of negotiating is a normal aspect of raising the debt ceiling:

Now, it’s true the hand of the House GOP leadership was forced by an element of its rank and file. This is not how they would have set up this fight, they would have gone to the debt limit right away. But now they’re in this fight, it’s inevitably going to segue into the debt limit and the caucus is united and they want to hold firm until Harry Reid and President Obama actually are willing to negotiate, which is how these kind of disputes are always settled. [NBC, Meet the Press, 10/6/13]”

Mr. Lowry’s unchallenged “False Equivalency” is that this unprecedented situation is just normal business, rather than an extraordinary Constitutional crisis. Meanwhile NBC Today’s morning host Savannah Guthrie had this to add on the current situation:

“GUTHRIE: If [Boehner] would, right now, put a clean budget resolution on the floor of the house there would be enough moderate Republicans and then Democrats to get to the two eighteen votes that they need. But the fact of the matter is Boehner is not going to do that right now and then have to do the same thing two weeks later on the debt ceiling.

So the Republican strategy right now seems to be, merge those two issues together and then if Boehner and the Republicans have to take a tough vote they can do it all once at the same time. But they want some kind of concession from the White House and this is where President Obama is getting on riskier territory. His position has been ‘I’m not going to negotiate on the debt ceiling and I’m not going to negotiate on reopening the government.’ And how long can that last? It’s really a case of who blinks first? [NBC, Today, 10/6/13]”

So in Guthrie’s estimation the President by refusing to make concessions to Boehner has gone into “risky territory”. The “False Equivalency” there is that this is just a normal inter party situation and that the President is being reckless by not caving in to the threat. Interestingly enough the mainstream print media has been editorially critical of the Republican position:

NY Times: The Extreme Right’s “Rigid Ideology Is Proving Toxic For The Most Basic Functioning Of Government.” New York Times editorial explained that conservative groups like the Club For Growth are pressuring Republican lawmakers to vote to defund the ACA or face well-funded primary opponents. From the editorial:

Club for Growth and other extremist groups consider a record like his an unforgivable failure, and they are raising and spending millions to make sure that no Republicans will take similar positions in the next few weeks when the fiscal year ends and the debt limit expires.

If you’re wondering why so many House Republicans seem to believe they can force President Obama to accept a “defunding” of the health care reform law by threatening a government shutdown or a default, it’s because these groups have promised to inflict political pain on any Republican official who doesn’t go along. [The New York Times9/17/13]

Then we have this from men from the moderate Brookings Institution and the more right wing American Enterprise Institute, both hardly Liberal bastions:

Mann And Ornstein: “A Handful Of Republican Lawmakers Are Speaking Openly About Blackmail” To Defund ACA. The Brookings Institution’s Thomas E. Mann and the American Enterprise Institute’s Norman J. Ornstein explained in a Washington Post op-ed that GOP lawmakers’ obstruction has led to a Congress that fails to get anything done:

Of course, all of this reflects the fact that the House Republican majority is not being run by its leaders but by its most extreme faction, its role amplified by outside media and money. Among those who are less driven by rigid ideology, the threat of a well-financed primary challenge sharply deflates the number of those eligible for Profile in Courage awards — or willing to risk their congressional careers to get them. [The Washington Post8/29/13]

From Time magazine we have this:

“False Equivalency Amounts To Biased Journalism

Time: False Equivalency “Sounds Neutral, But It’s Actually Taking A Side.” On October 7, Time magazine’s James Poniewozik wrote of the coverage of the government shut down and debt ceiling negotiations, “So here, ‘Both sides got us into this mess’ sounds neutral, but it’s actually taking a side — or, at least, adopting the framing that one side is counting on using to a political end.” Poniewozik wrote:

[I]n a case like the fiscal crisis, false equivalence matters. It’s the difference between reporting an extraordinary event and an ordinary one, which in this case is crucial to how the story plays out politically. It’s a matter of whether “not changing current law” becomes redefined as “getting 100% of what you want.” If this is just one more case of those knuckleheads in Washington “digging in their heels,” “playing the blame game,” and so on, it normalizes the situation for the news audience: it sends the tacit message that it is entirely ordinary, every so often, to have a forced debt crisis that reasonable people resolve through “compromise” by renegotiating major pieces of U.S. law. [Time10/7/13]”

Finally “The Atlantic Monthly” sums it up:

“The Atlantic: Instead Of Resorting To False Equivalency, “The Press Should Recognize Reality.” On October 2, The Atlantic‘s James Fallows reacted to a Washington Post editorial that blamed House Republicans for the government shutdown — an opinion that seemed to reverse a previous editorial laying blame at the feet of both sides, writing, “I don’t know what can account for this change, but it is a welcome one.” Fallows wrote:

[T]he point here is not, “the press should criticize Republicans.” It is that the press should recognize reality — and at moments when one party is behaving in extreme ways it should come out and say so, despite the powerful (and admirable-in-its-origins) aversion to seeming to take sides in political disputes. [The Atlantic10/2/13]”

The truth is that for this blog, my role has just been as a compiler and a quoter. This piece virtually wrote itself with the greatest assist coming from “Media Matters for America”. My aim was to present this issue by actual examples and by commentary from mainstream print media. In my opinion the greatest purveyor of propaganda in this country is the Broadcast media, who through a combination of incompetence, cowardice and venality has served to destroy our political system.

Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger

Sources used for this guest blog:





50 thoughts on “False Equivalency: How We Are Manipulated #2”

  1. Oro Lee, Gene H.

    The US has at least one good journalist covering US politics. This is Greg Palast however his stories are never seen in the mainstream American Media, you have to go to Britain to see them in the Observer or on the BBC. Alternatively one can visit his website or buy his books.

    Important things that he has covered include the thefts by the Republicans of the 2000 and 2004 Federal elections.

  2. “Reality is not perception, it is independent of it.”


    Just because you can’t see X-rays doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

    Just because you think Republicans can do no wrong doesn’t mean that they don’t.

    Just because you think Democrats can do no wrong doesn’t mean that they don’t.

    Just because you think government is evil doesn’t mean that it is always and isn’t necessary.

    These are all examples of misconceptions based in faulty perception.

    “This thing, what is it in itself, in its own constitution! What is its substance and material? And what its causal nature [or form]? And what is it doing in the world? And how long does it subsist?” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, VIII, 11.

  3. Jake: As a professional scientist dealing with data all the time, I pronounce the word “day tuh”, not “dat” as in “hat.” My pronunciation is also what I hear most from colleagues.

  4. Paul says: But truth is rarely one sided.

    On the contrary, truth is singular, and perception has nothing to do with it (unless we are talking about the truth of what someone perceived). We may not be able to discover the truth; there are some things we may never know, but they are still definite states and definite answers. We may never know if there are an infinite number of twin primes, but by the rules of math the answer is either yes or no, it does not depend upon perception and there is no intermediate value between “finite” and “infinite.”

    We will probably never know if Fermat actually HAD a valid proof of Fermat’s last theorem; it is now proven but by maths that would not exist for centuries when he wrote that he had a “wonderful proof.” But he either had a proof or did not. Even if somebody discovers a new proof using math plausibly accessible to Fermat, we won’t know whether HE proved it. But there is no space between “he did” and “he didn’t” and proof is also not a matter of “perception.”

    Reality is not perception, it is independent of it. Cherry picking, shading, and word choice are all methods used to present a distorted picture of reality. Such a distortion can be either a necessary simplification due to time and bandwidth constraints or a complete fiction, but in the end reality is whatever it is.

    False equivalence is claiming that two things are essentially the same when in reality they are not of the same magnitude or degree at all, or the claim is an intentional distortion of reality for the purpose of deception and deflection. Yes, Democrats have used the filibuster, and Republicans have used the filibuster, but the reality is the Republicans are abusing the filibuster to a far greater degree than Democrats EVER have, and claiming those abuses are equivalent is a distortion of reality to the point of either extreme ignorance or an intentional lie.

  5. Our political system is in a sorry state of affairs. We have come to a point where the disagreements over the proper role of government have shut down National Parks, Disease research, and many other items that nearly everyone in the country agree on.

    The shutdown is being used as a tool (a very blunt tool) by those that want to spend less Federal money. My preference is to take the $ Trillions spent on war making and bonuses for bankers and use it for food stamps, WIC, and infrastructure improvement, and still save a $ trillion or two. But alas, I am not an elected official, I am just one vote (a vote that will rarely if ever again vote for a Demo or Repo).

    Reality is in the eye of the beholder. Yes indeed. But we are not talking about “Facts” like the earth rotating around the sun. We are talking about the role of government and the reporting of same (which is being poorly done by nearly every one). I rarely look at Media (doesn’t)Matter because it is really a Fox Sucks web site. Great. They can pull legitimate and made up scandal on Fox every day. So what. I’m sure there is a comparable web site on MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABC, NPR, or at least there could be.

    This being a blog whose site is authored by a Constitutional Scholar, I’d like to think those that like this site feel that our government (the United States Federal Government) is limited by its Constitution. It is this fight over what the Constitution means that this shutdown is really about. Those in power (not our elected pawn, but the billionaires that own them) are glad that Media Matters and Fox are the story, not the $ trillions that they get from our government. When Snowdon fled the country what was the big story of the day? Actually the story of the week. What his ex girl friend thought of the matter. Does that make any sense at all?

    When I first found this site a few years ago I had hopes that saner minds would prevail and we might find our way back to a Federal Government limited by its Constitution. I now have no illusion that will happen. Even among the many intelligent people posting on this site, there is way more venom than there is understanding of why (why) someone has a particular point of view. In too many eyes “Reality” is seen as a my way is the only way mentality. So what is reality? Does Grass grow? is that a fact? Should grass grow in Phoenix subdivisions? is that a fact? And too often what is laid out as a fact has its assumptions rooted firmly in opinion.

  6. “Data”, which is pronounced like the last three letters are at uh instead of eatuh, is part of the new lexicon. Folks used to say: the information available from the teleprompter at Channel 4 indicates that the public is mad about rotten milk. Now all we hear is data this and data that and no batter no batter stop the data. The data suggests that the dataites are losing our attention.

  7. Perception is subjective because it is relative and in a singular instance limited by both position relative to the observed and the information throughput as limited by sensory input and the ability to integrate data..

    Reality is objective because it is what it is.

    The trick is not to let your subjective mind interfere with the perception of objective reality by considering multiple perspectives to distill the objective facts of reality and to hone your analytical skills to the highest degree possible.

    Only then can you come close to capturing objective reality.

    Even then, as Kurt Gödel proved with his famous Incompleteness Theorems, not everything can proven from within a given system – some things have to be assumed true though unprovable – thus complete understanding of a given system’s consistency is not possible from within that system ergo a perfect understanding of objective reality is not possible from within the system that is our universe. This does not mean, however, that elements within that system are not capable of perfect definition given sufficiently parallax multiple points of observation and measurement.

    What Media Matters does is examine the media as it applies to journalism from a parallax point of reference to highlight distortions in that data set.

    In other words, Media Matters aids in gaining a better understanding of media and the news/data/information it allegedly relays by providing a view of the mechanics of that data set from the outside. Like all data tools, it can lead to a broader understanding of the objective reality behind the news data set, but like all tools, it is ultimately limited by the skill of the user.

  8. Reality is one sided by everyone, or to put it another way, perception is reality. But truth is rarely one sided.

    Media Matters frequently takes quotes and sound bites out of context to prove the “reality” point.

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